Why Hamas is not a liberation movement

Hamas is not a liberation movement. International activists who think so have been misled.
An Israeli resident's shrouded body in Kfar Aza during Hamas pogrom on 7 October. picture alliance/dpa/Ilia Yefimovich An Israeli resident's shrouded body in Kfar Aza during Hamas pogrom on 7 October.

Hamas is a militia of fanatic Islamists who say that Palestine must belong to Muslims and therefore want to destroy Israel. It prioritises its holy war over Palestinian lives. Stating that martyrs go straight to heaven, it implies that those lives do not matter much. Indeed, it does not protect Palestinian civilians, but uses masses of them as human shields. Hamas did not ask the people of Gaza whether they want to die in its jihad. Hamas did not improve the standard of living in the territory it controls, but used its resources to build military infrastructure.

According to Islamist propaganda, Israel alone is responsible for the mayhem. That is wrong. The Hamas leadership certainly knew what response it would trigger with its brutal pogrom in Israel on 7 October. Its terrorists committed awful war crimes, including wilful causing of great suffering, torture, taking of hostages and sexualised violence.

Not acting on behalf of the people

Many Palestinians fear Hamas. It has a track record of killing opponents. Moreover, some 10 % of Palestinians are Christians who do not see the Koran as the ultimate source on social norms. What the Koran demands, moreover, is disputed even among Muslims. Islam has a long history of theological debate. What Hamas wants to enforce is not necessarily what other Muslims believe in. 

In Gaza, Hamas tried to introduce gender segregation in higher education, but gave up in view of popular opposition. It is hard to say what kind of rules the fundamentalist outfit would impose on women and girls if it felt more firmly in power. Their main role in life, according to Hamas ideology, is to bear children and rear fighters.

The idea that any given people is a homogenous community with a shared understanding of what rules should govern social life is wrong. We do not accept it when right-wing nationalists claim that only they represent the nation and that any true member of that nation supports them. We should not accept that ploy when Hamas uses it to discredit those who disagree with it.

The Hamas agenda is thoroughly authoritarian. It does not include personal self-determination and gives no scope to diversity. Nonetheless, some young people in western democracies bizarrely believe that Hamas is waging a liberation war in a colonised country. They are not informed well.  

Established with a UN mandate

It bears repetition that Israel is not the creation of an imperial power that wanted to expand its reach. It was established with a UN mandate in 1948 by people who had fled to Palestine to escape discrimination, marginalisation and recurring violence in Europe. The rhetoric of Israelis being “white” and Palestinians “persons of colour” does not make sense because it is impossible to tell them apart by skin colour. 

The idea of a Palestinian identity is actually quite young. It began to evolve after Six-Days War in 1967. The defeat of Arab armies made it obvious that pan-Arabism would not do much for Palestinians. Pan-Arabism was an ideology that helped autocratic leaders impose their rule in their respective countries, but it did not result in real solidarity. While Israel did a rather good job of including Jewish refugees who came from far away in society, Palestinians generally remained outsiders in the places they fled to and ended up dwelling in miserable camps.  

Only in that setting did the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) emerge as an influential umbrella body with an eye to liberating the Palestinian people. It initially opted for armed struggle and some of its affiliates launched terror attacks. Hamas never joined the PLO and rejects the two-state solution the PLO agreed with Israel 30 years ago. The conflict with the PLO sometimes turned bloody, though attempts to build a joint alliance and even to join the PLO were made too.

Pluralism is indispensible

Anyone interested in freedom must reject ideas of any single political entity representing any supposedly homogenous nation. Pluralism is indispensable. If you oppose right-wing nationalism at home, you should not support supposed liberation movements with similar attitudes – and especially not, if they perpetrate horrendous war crimes.  

Anyone, however, who thinks that Israel can do no wrong, given that it is the state of a religious community with a long history of persecution, has also fallen prey to identity politics. For good reason, many prominent Jewish authors find fault with the Netanyahu government. If humankind is to live in peace on one planet, we must guarantee human rights for all, not special rights for special communities in special places.  

Hans Dembowski is editor-in-chief of D+C/E+Z.

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